Wednesday, August 6, 2014

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

I first encountered Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki's collaborative work in 2009 through a course at Mount Allison University. Skim was on the book list, and was an excellent contemporary addition. I have been hearing about This One Summer all summer, but it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I finally picked up a copy for myself. I loved the format of the book, novel-sized and shelved in the YA Graphic Novels section. Skim was shaped more like a picture book which suited the double-paged illustrations. The blurbs on the back of This One Summer are amazing, with recommendations from YA greats Deb Caletti, Julie Halpern, and Stephane Perkins, and comic artists Hope Larson, Craig Thompson, Lucy Knisley, and Vera Brosgol. The blurbs certainly set the tone for the novel, a graphic coming of age story firmly located in the category of YA lit.

This One Summer starts with Rose's trip with her parents to Awago Beach, where they spend every summer. I loved reading this book right after Morgan Matson's Second Chance Summer, another book that focuses on summers away from home and spent at a lake cabin. A staple of Rose's summer home is Windy, her best friend out at the lake who is just a little bit younger than she is. Rose and Windy spend every summer together. This summer they rent horror movies from the corner store, Rose's way of impressing an older boy who works behind the counter.

While Rose and Windy seem largely untouched by tragedy - they still seem like normal kids hanging out during the summer - tragedy is all around them. Rose's mom miscarried in the ocean the summer before and struggles with coming to terms with the fact that their family of three might not grow larger. Conversely, one of the teenage girls who hangs around the corner store is pregnant, and the father of the baby (the boy behind the corner store counter) won't return her calls. Rose and Windy find themselves in the middle of other people's tragedy, and it's heartbreaking to watch them come to terms with issues that they previously didn't have to know about or understand.

One of my favorite aspects of This One Summer was the Canadiana scattered throughout, both in the text and the images. Rose's parents are drinking out of Tim Hortons cups on the way to Awago, a U of T bumper sticker is stuck to the back of the family car, there are Twizzlers for sale at the corner store. This One Summer is an amazing follow-up to Skim, a beautifully illustrated coming-of-age story that happens over the summer.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

I picked up three amazing graphic novels at Chapters recently and they happened to all be by Canadian authors: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, and Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley. I had read other standalone publications by Tamaki and Tamaki and O'Malley, but not Emily Carroll (although I'd read one of her short comics in a collection!). I found Carroll's collection shelved in the YA Graphic Novels category at Chapters, and the five truly terrifying stories inside are perfect for teenage readers. 

Through the Woods is a collection of short, illustrated stories that lean into the horror category, while also connecting to many traditional fairy tales and folk tales. They intially reminded me of Neil Gaiman's short story collections Fragile Things and Smoke and Mirrors because of the mash up of horror and fantasy and real life. 

"Our Neighbour's House" is the first story in the collection, and it ended up being my favorite. Three sisters are left alone in their isolated house. Their father disappeared seven days before, giving the sisters a single command: if he doesn't return in three days, they are to pack up their things and go to their neighbour's house. The sisters don't follow their disappeared father's instructions, and they slowly start disappearing, too - one by one. The story provides an amazing tie-in to "Little Red Riding Hood," showing that Carroll can twist traditional fairy tales to suit her stories. 

"A Lady's Hands Are Cold" is one of the most gruesome stories in the collection, Carroll's take on the "Bluebeard" tale. A young woman has just wed a rich man who lives in a large house, where "The halls of her new home were tall…and cold, papered with stiff stripes." When she goes to bed at night she is haunted by a "soft, sad song," one that leads her to find the previous bride of her new husband.

"The Nesting Place" feels more contemporary than any of the other stories, which have more of a medieval feel. A young woman goes to stay with her brother and his fiancee in the country. While she's there, she realizes that her brother's fiancee might not be all that she seems, and slowly uncovers the mystery of her past. 

I loved this collection and I'm looking forward to sharing it with teachers in September at the University of Lethbridge's Lit Fair, organized by the Faculty of Education!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Goodreads Giveaway July 21 - August 21

Check out the giveaway for my new YA book Swimmers on Goodreads! There are 10 copies available and it runs from July 21 - August 21. Thanks to Winston Stilwell at Red Deer Press for making this giveaway happen!

New book reviews will be up this week, including Emily Carroll's Through the Woods, Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki's This One Summer, the two Robert Galbraith mysteries, and Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend by Katie Finn (aka Morgan Matson). 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

After reading We Were Liars, I ordered E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I'm a little late to reading the book; it was published in 2008, when it was also recognized as a Printz Honor Book and a National Book Award Finalist. I'd seen the cover at bookstores numerous times before - the original, baby blue cover with an envelope in the middle - so many times that I was actually sort of confident that I'd read it already. But when E. Lockhart's books dominated much of the discussion between teachers and librarians at the YA Lit Conference at Louisiana State University, especially The Disreputable History, I realized I had not, in fact, read it at all, and so I ordered it from the University of Lethbridge Bookstore about a week ago. 

Frankie Landau-Banks is a sophomore at the prestigious boarding school Alabaster, located on the east coast of the United States. Her older sister Zada graduated from the school the year before, and now she's headed to California to attend Berkeley. Zada was the key to Frankie feeling like she belonged at Alabaster in her freshman year: she sat with her sister at lunch, met some of the junior and senior students, and felt like she belonged at the school from the start. So by the time Zada leaves, Frankie is well established at the school and has friends of her own. And over the summer, she's transformed physically, as Lockhart describes, "Between May and September, she gained four inches and twenty pounds, all in the right places. Went from being a scrawny, awkward child with hands too big for her arms, a frizz of unruly brown fluff on her head, and a jaw so sharp it made Grandma Evelyn cluck about how 'When it comes to plastic surgery, it never hurts to do these things before college,' to being a curvaceous young woman with an offbeat look that boys found distinctly appealing" (5). At the end of the summer, she has a clue to how her new looks get her attention when she meets a boy on the beach who notices her in her string bikini and takes interest in the fact that she goes to Alabaster.

So when Frankie starts her sophomore year, she's getting the kind of attention that she has never gotten before, namely from senior Matthew Livingston. Frankie knows exactly what to say to him even though "Last year she had been unable to say two words when he was around" (34). They start dating and Frankie has high hopes for this year at Alabaster. That is, until she meets Matthew's best friend Alpha (nicknamed because he's the "Alpha Wolf" of their group, even though he's been away for a year attending public school), who just so happens to be the same boy who flirted with her on the beach at the end of the summer. He pretends not to know who she is, although Frankie knows he recognizes her. 

Frankie soon discovers that Matthew and Alpha are part of a secret Alabaster society called the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. It's an all-male group, and Frankie hates the feeling of being excluded. She begins to involve herself in the group without any of the members knowing, orchestrating pranks that the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds could never even dream up. 

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is an incredible book, and Frankie is a character worth reading about. I loved reading about her infiltrating the all-male society, frustrated about traditional gender roles and the stringent rules imposed on males and females. There are some lovely paragraphs about Frankie navigating the space between how she wants to react and how she should react. For example, when her boyfriend Matthew gives her a compliment and she accepts it without feeling self-conscious, Matthew tells her he's glad she's not the kind of girl who can't take a compliment. Frankie doesn't think much about it at the time, but after Matthew leaves she reflects, "A tiny part of her wanted to go over to him and shout, 'I can feel like a hag some days if I want! And I can tell everybody about how insecure I am if I want! Or I can be pretty and pretend to think I'm a hag out of fake modesty - I can do that if I want, too. Because you, Livingston, are not the boss of me and what kind of girl I become" (79-80). 

E. Lockhart has quickly become one of my favorite authors writing YA lit, and I'm looking forward to reading some of her earlier publications over the summer. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Laura and Tom McNeal's Crooked is one of my favorite YA books of all time. I looked back through my book reviews and was so surprised that I haven't written about it yet here. Crooked is about Amos and Clara, and their perspectives duet in a complementary back-and-forth to tell the story. But after I read Crooked, I didn't really search out any other books by Laura and Tom McNeal. I think I read Zipped, but missed Crushed. Tom McNeal writes several books on his own, without his wife Laura, and Far Far Away is his latest. I had heard about it, and had seen the striking cover on display a few times at Chapters. It was a reminder of how much I had liked Crooked and I thought I would give it a try.

Far Far Away follows young teenage protagonist Jeremy Johnson Johnson, who lives in the strange and quiet town of Never Better. He lives with his father over a bookshop opened by his grandfather, which only stocks his grandfather's autobiography. Jeremy's attic room is filled with books, especially the fairy tale stories that his mother loved. In fact, his mother's fate is straight out of a fairy tale: when she takes a bite of a fabled cake, she falls in love with the first person she sees and leaves Jeremy and his father in Never Better while she takes off to Canada. The fairy tale theme makes fitting the narrator of this novel: the ghost of Jacob Grimm, who talks to Jeremy and tries to figure out what will help him to move on to where his brother is. He dedicates himself to Jeremy, helping him write tests and answer questions, and also keeping an eye out for the Finder of Occasions, a mysterious individuals who is searching for the right occasion to bring harm to Jeremy. 

For me, the tone just never felt right for this book. I've seen it described as "timeless" by several reviewers, but it was that attempt at "timelessness" that was so frustrating to me. It is very keenly set in a contemporary time and place, yet there are aspects of the language, characters, and plot that are so clearly not contemporary, and I found that those two forces continuously tug-of-warred. I like fairy tales and I like unconventional narrators, but not in the way that they were presented here. 

But reading Far Far Away reminded me of just how much I loved Crooked, and once I dig my old copy out, I'm going to give it a re-read and post a review here instead.